Jan. 25, 2009
25th Blog: Tailgating with the Monarchs faithful
By Brendan O'Hallarn
How fun was that????
Since I started following the team this season, I've been hearing how ODU fans tailgate in the parking lot of Kaplan Arena before the William and Mary game.
I had no idea what to expect when I drove up to the tailgate site. I live in Williamsburg and I've been to several Tribe games. Their crowd is enthusiastic, but considerably smaller than ODU's.
I was in for a pleasant surprise. Three hours before tipoff, several dozen fans clad in navy blue ODU gear had commandeered the back end of the parking lot. I could see a football being tossed back and forth as I drove up. I got out of my car and could smell the wonderful aroma of grilling charcoal. It was tailgate time.
Two RVs park a dozen feet apart in the parking lot, and the space between them becomes party central, with a portable heater and an incredible spread of food. I had some ham biscuits, some chicken wings, some great bean dip and far more chips than I should have.
Bruce Ford and Glenn McClure have been coming to the tailgates since the start. They've also been coming to ODU games since 1971, when their high school coach brought them to see how a "real point guard" (Dave Twardzik) ran the offense. "It's just great to see our friends at these games," Ford said.
Tony Icayan, an ODU grad who works at the NATO Allied Command Transformation Civil-Military Fusion Center on campus, never misses a game. "My brother Danny, who's also a grad, took me to a Lady Monarchs game. My first game, I saw Ticha Penicheiro play," Icayan said. "I've been a die-hard ever since. It's just good basketball."
The demographic skewed a little older for the tailgate party, but there were a few students in the crowd, including Danielle Buxton of the Monarch Maniacs spirit group. "I rode up with a few friends. It's pretty amazing to see tailgating for basketball," Buxton said.
By the time I went into Kaplan Arena with a full belly, after two full hours of basketball talk, the tailgate crowd had swelled to a few hundred. I wondered if the game could possibly live up to the fun I'd had beforehand. It did, and then some.
I'd bought tickets for my wife, son, in-laws, brother- and sister-in-law and a few friends. I didn't sit with them up high in the bleachers for two reasons: 1. The whole group, including my wife, an alumnus, would be rooting for William and Mary; and 2. I had a reserved seat courtside with my press pass. I pointed down at the court, and said: "Do you see that bench along the length of the court?" My brother-in-law was direct. "Is your seat there? What are you doing up here?"
We got up 5-0 early and our defense looked to be locking down the home team. Then dangerous W&M guard David Schneider hit a long, leaning jumper to get the Tribe on the board, and then a long three-pointer to tie it the next time down the court. The game would go back and forth all night.
William and Mary is legit. We needed to play VERY well in the second half to pull out the 58-55 win. In the final minute, Gerald Lee grabbed a rebound, put it back in the basket and was fouled, making the free throw, to put us ahead. And then after a wild scramble we got the ball back. Keyon Carter was fouled, and coolly knocked down two free throws to give us our final margin. Of course, Schneider nearly made my heart stop with an implausible fling at the buzzer that looped around the inside of the rim but somehow stayed out of the basket.
Both coaches paid tribute to the raucous crowd, the largest ever for a Colonial Athletic Association game at William and Mary. "I'd just say it was a great college basketball game. Great atmosphere, well played ballgame. I don't think I can ask our guys to compete any harder than they did tonight, and I'm very proud of that. Tough one to lose, but a great one to be part of," said Tribe coach Tony Shaver.
"They've got a really good team, and they really played hard, and they're having a really nice year, really nice environment. I think people really got their money's worth," said ODU coach Blaine Taylor. "You get submerged in the competition if you're us, and then you walk off the court afterwards and say 'Man, that was probably pretty fun to watch.'"
Old Dominion played zone defense a great deal to try to cover William and Mary's perimeter shooters. Shaver said his team anticipated the zone, but was struck by ODU's size, length and quickness.
"They're so big. That's one of the biggest basketball teams I've coached against. We played Wake Forest, and position-by-position, these guys are bigger and more athletic, I think, quite honestly," he said.
Here are a few other things that stood out in my mind from Saturday night.
I was struck by how magnanimous ODU's fans were to William and Mary, both before and after the game. I sensed, probably because of the Tribe's difficult recent history playing hoops, that ODU fans are genuinely happy their regional rivals are succeeding. Those good feelings do not extend to Virginia Commonwealth University.
I loved how the William and Mary fans (who were loud and dialed in for the whole game) added "SUCKS" at the end of the O-D-U chant coming from our fans. Playful fun.
It was cool hearing the "HISS ... POP!" sound right behind me as t-shirts were shot into the crowd with an air gun after each William and Mary three. The gun got a fair amount of use; William and Mary hit 10 threes against us.
Finally, my single favorite moment of the game was this. Early in the second half we made a run to take a lead. Darius James got open on the baseline and let fly with a three pointer. I looked straight across at the shot. When it swished in the basket, four packed sections of ODU fans behind James rose as one, roaring in delight. THAT was college basketball at its finest. Win or lose.
(But I'm sure glad we won.)
Brendan O'Hallarn works in public relations for Old Dominion University
Brendan's Blog 46